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Writings on Motherhood, Judaism, and Happily-Ever-Afters

Melissa CohenAuthor Archives

Random January Thoughts

December was a hot mess of snow storms all over the place, but January has been delightfully snow-free. I could get used to spring for my birthday.

Sam and I are plowing through Connections Academy. We’re still struggling with IEP accommodations, but he’s getting a fantastic education, and that’s what matters.

Fourth grade girls haven’t gotten any less complicated since Jessie was there. It’s slightly easier with Julie, because Julie’s got a lot of friends and seems overall happier at the school, but the politics and intricate relationships seem to really kick into overdrive in fourth grade.

I’m already dreading Jessie going away to college. Excited for her, sure, but mostly terrified of how to pay for it, and how to emotionally handle my baby girl living somewhere other than with me.

2018 – A retrospective

It was a mostly good year. Dominated in a lot of ways around concerns about Sam’s education, and climaxed in a dramatic month-long disaster at Forest Grove, but we ended up in such a good place that it’s hard to look back on it and not feel good about how it all turned out.

Jessie ended sophomore year and kicked off junior year, got her first real job, first internship and her learners permit. We started looking at colleges. There was a whole lot of new things going on – and I’m incredibly aware that this is the last full year that I’ll have her living at home with me.

Sam made some huge strides in conquering the anxiety and taking control of his life. Choosing to take solid steps towards a formal education, going through the eval process and starting to take classes at the local elementary school and transitioning to full time at the junior high – these are goals that seemed so far beyond what I was hoping for – and he kicked ass at every one. Even though Forest Grove was a hot mess for him, he learned real skills about advocating for himself, pushing thru adversity and recognizing when one thing doesn’t work out, we don’t give up on the goal, we just find another way to meet it. He’s thriving in on-line school, it’s a much, much better fit for him.

My Julianna Ruth almost seems to have grown up the most, because she really, really came into herself this year. She started off third grade in a class with none of her close friends and ended up growing up so much. She’s much more relaxed and comfortable now, has a huge group of friends that mix across all groups, and academically, she’s at the head of her class. She’s a brilliant reader, has memorized her multiplication tables and is just doing so well, across the board.

I’m not saying that everything is always blissful. Jessie’s got chronic migraines and likes us all to suffer along with her, Sam spends WAY too much time in his room watching Youtube, and Julianna can fuss like there’s no tomorrow. But overall, they’re all NORMAL problems. They’re all thriving academically (and it’s been literally years since I could say that). They’re all healthy (with the obvious exception of the constant headaches) and they’re all relatively, most days, reasonably happy.

2018 was mostly a win.

Shabbat Dinner

We had to shift things around a little this year. With both Lilli and Sarah off at college, suddenly our Shabbats seemed empty. Marc’s job seemed to go later and later, and it seemed like a lot of work and not very much fun at all. Jessie’s got misophonia, so sitting around the table listening to everyone eat makes her crazy, and Sam’s prone to hanging with us for a half hour or so, eating bread and then beating a quick retreat to his bedroom. Which leaves Marc, Julie and I staring at each other, and then a giant pile of dishes for me to do on Saturday.

We started a new tradition a few months ago – I call it “take out Shabbat.” It’s probably a wash, cost wise, but saves me a ton of time. I let the kids order from wherever, and then swoop through Worcester, picking it all up. Then we hang out in the living room, I read, the girls watch movies and Sam usually plays on his iPad. Marc hangs out in the dining room, alternately listening to music or catching up on work. It’s still family time, it’s still special… it’s just different. I’m sure it’ll change again in a few years when Jessie goes off to college. And it’ll change again if anyone moves back home after college, or shift into something else.

But there are a few times a year, during the school year, when the girls come home, and we’re able to have the kind of Shabbat dinner we’ve had for years. And it just occurred to me that I have NO idea where the candleholders are.

Holiday Angst

I don’t actually have any angst. Yet. I’ve mostly decided to avoid any of the December Dilemma crap that abounds this time of year – and it’s not easy. I don’t like most of my community in December, as far as I can tell, I’m the only person who enthusiastically celebrates Christmas as a Jewish woman – and I’m simultaneously angering the Jews and the Christians. I’m either doing it too much, or not doing it enough or doing it for the wrong reasons. And the reality is that I’m chugging along, without enough money or time or enthusiasm, and mostly just hanging in, waiting for spring.

What I do have is a lot of general irritation. Pretty much everyone is at the end of their ropes, emotionally. Sam has taken to gleefully counting down the days to Christmas, which I’m trying hard to not take as a personal attack because I haven’t started shopping yet. Jessie applied to a five week fellowship in Israel for the summer, and in the back of my mind, I’m already missing her. Julie announced that she might be interested in going to Camp Ramah this summer, which makes me both delighted and horrified. The idea of shipping my by then 17 year old off for most of the summer is rough enough, the thought of not having my baby around all summer is an anathema for me.

Plus, there’s all this snow. Everything is wet and cold, and I miss being barefoot.

Thanksgiving 2019

This will be the one known as the holiday where everyone drank too much.

I don’t drink, as a rule. In part because I really don’t like the taste of alcohol, in part because I think I owe my kids a functional parent at all times, and in part because I’ve got a family history of alcoholism, I just don’t really ever drink. But the holiday was so stress-filled and emotionally laden, it was a nice coping mechanism. Not one I plan on utilizing more than once a year, but upon reaching the point where I was going to get super irritable and fight with someone, I chose to down a mimosa like it was medicine and giggle my way thru the tail end of Thanksgiving prep.

Marc also chose this holiday to drink liberally. He also doesn’t drink as a rule, due mainly to the fact that I really, really hate it when he drinks at home. So I can’t remember the last time I saw him actually intoxicated – but he took the mantra of “lubricate the cook” very seriously this year. But still managed to pull off an incredibly well cooked dinner, the turkey was amazing, everything was wonderfully cooked, and well… at least it makes for a good story. Eventually. I hope.

This also marks our last Thanksgiving with Glennys while she’s in high school. She’s been coming down every year since she moved up to North Conway, and I’m already missing her. Julie got her new glasses – and she looks so adorable all the time I can’t stop complimenting her. Jessie’s been sick with a migraine, and Sam’s been throwing up off and on since Thursday morning. Oh – and we wrapped up the weekend with the first official snowstorm of the season – a foot of snow is expected, and the girls already have tomorrow cancelled. Honestly, with a foot of snow, sleet and icy rain, followed by more snow Monday night, I’m assuming that Tuesday is a no-go as well.


Happy to report that I’ve figured out how to shop.

I hate shopping. I mean, I really hate shopping. I hate spending money, and when I’ve got a TON of shopping to do, I get really anxious and stressed. Today, I had all the Thanksgiving shopping to do, and the list was long (spanning three different lists – one for the actual holiday, one for Pie Day, and one for general groceries).

The key is a book and multiple stores. I went to three different stores, bought only what I was in the mood to get at each one, and read for a while before going in and before driving to the next one. Yes, it did take about an hour or so longer than it should have, but I emerged unscathed and not afraid to tackle the rest of it tomorrow.

In other news – Sam is back to not sleeping at night. Not sure if it’s just being a teenager (because that’s what he is now) or if it’s that he’s naturally a night owl, and periodically, his body reverts to that. But either way, he didn’t get a hell of of a lot of school in today. Some, but when his eyes are falling shut as I read to him, it’s not a good feeling.

We also got Jessie’s hair cut today, and while it looks stunning, I’m waiting for her to freak out. It’s her first real hair cut (as opposed to tiny trim) since the Great Hair Crisis of 2015. She says she loves it – but my girl is a mistress of self-delusion, and may well be lying to me and herself because as we learned four years ago, there’s not a damn thing you to do once you’ve inadvertently cut off all your hair. She almost talked Julie into getting her hair cut as well, but I nixed that idea. Julie would have done it, just to keep her big sister smiling, and then would have fallen apart later. I only let them get their hair cut when they’ve been begging for a few weeks and I’m positive they really want to do it. And even then, the odds are 50/50 that they’ll end up in tears that first night.


I watched my cousin Lea’s baby boy this weekend. Or rather, my Jessie watched baby Michael this weekend. The whole time, I kept thinking back to me at her age, watching Lea. There’s sixteen years between Lea and I, and it’s completely surreal to have the generations repeating themselves.

It’s oddly disconcerting – Jessie uses my phrases with babies. Which makes sense, but it’s still… just weird. She says “avec moi” when she wants them to follow her – and I’ve never seen anyone do that before. Except for me. I used to joke that the only French I retained from high school were phrases that went along with motherhood – with me, right now, and I’m so tired.

Then Julie fed him her ice cream cone in the car on the way back, and all I could remember was taking little Lea up to Erickson’s and getting two kiddie cones that we’d trade back and forth.

It went by so fast

That’s the thing with raising kids. It just never stays the same. As soon as you figure out how to handle a newborn, you’ve got a baby. And then a toddler, and then all of a sudden, she’s dancing off to preschool. And then you turn around and she’s taller than you are and trying to figure out if the outfit she wants to wear is professional enough for the networking event she’s got tomorrow. At court.

I mean, yes, it’s teen intern program. But still – I know from how ridiculously fast she went from 0-16 that it’s a matter of minutes before she’s actually dressing for real court. Or the office, or wherever she ends up. Because she’s still all over the place on what she want to do and where she wants to go.

I’m in no rush. She’ll get there, sooner than I’d like, and way before I’m ready. But for tonight, she’s wearing some flannel pants with owls on them, and eating cut up hot dogs mixed in with beans. She’s bugging her brother and dancing her sister around the kitchen. For tonight, she’s sixteen, and I’m going to pretend that it’ll last forever.

Rough Times

I don’t like the phrase “the new normal” and yet, that’s where we are. I’m adjusting to a new normal, in a way that I haven’t in years.

Forest Grove did not go well for Sam. It was a disaster, from start to finish, and looking back, I really wish that we hadn’t even attempted it. On-line public school is so much better for him, he’s so much more confident, and I know that he’s learning. He’s going to school every day, it’s just school that’s in his living room, with his dog, and an iPad to fiddle with, but he’s learning and growing and it’s so much better than it was.

Both the girls have settled down too. September was so hellish, and October was just trying to catch our breath and figure out what to do next. But now it’s just … normal. Jessie gets up, I drive her to school, come home, Julie’s up and getting dressed. I drop her off and then come home and Sam has school until it’s time to do the whole thing in reverse.

There are still a lot of elements that need to be worked out. As per usual, Sam’s case is completely unique and nobody knows quite what to do with him. Because he’s visually impaired, he requires a lot of services that are paid for by the school – but because it’s on-line school, there’s debate on who pays for what. Academic services are relatively easy to figure out – orientation and mobility is a bit more challenging. And at the end of the day – I need help figuring out how to make the curriculum accessible for him, and that’s all still got to be organized. We’ve got another IEP assessment coming up, and we’ll see what happens with that.

I’m still here, only now, I’m shoving off any major decisions about what I want to do with my life because right now, what I’m doing is raising these kids. Sam’s education, at least for the next little while, is essentially my part-time job while the other two are in school. It’s like he’s attending public school, with a full time aide. So he’s getting a FANTASTIC education. Which is what matters.

Plan B

Forest Grove did not work out.

In the end, it was Jessie who helped me to understand and accept that it wasn’t going to work, sending Sam to middle school. She said he could be two of three things, but he couldn’t be smart, visually impaired and suffering from an anxiety disorder all at the same time. They could have handled two of the three, and made it work, but all three was a constant disaster and it was just a matter of which way it would all fall apart.

I hate that this didn’t work out. I wanted so badly for him to be able to go to public school, to be able to bounce into the building and have friends and teachers he loved, to excel in a new setting. But it didn’t. It just didn’t. He was miserable and the school was struggling. The reality is that he’s dealing with a physical and emotional disability, and he’s too bright to languish in the special ed classroom.

So we pulled him out, and started on-line public school. Three days in, and I think it’s a much better choice for him. The schedule is demanding, and it takes a lot of time and effort on both of our parts – but it’s manageable so far. It’s a lot more work than we’ve done in years – homeschooling was so easy and fun. We just read all the time, discussed and read. It was great. Forest Grove – the education he was getting there was so far below what he was capable of, so far below what Julie was capable of. This is better. He’s learning and challenged and knows that he can do it.